So many businesses have taken a hard hit over the past few months. Today, I want to talk specifically about a sector that very well may have been hit the hardest – the nonprofit community. Generally speaking, these are the organizations that build and deliver community-centric programs and services, and that leverage philanthropic support and fundraising revenues to invest in positive, meaningful resources for the benefit of others. They are the mission-driven organizations that we tend to look at in awe. They work tirelessly to make a difference.
Now more than ever, it’s important for nonprofit leaders to take a step back and rethink operations, strategy, communications, development and outreach. These organizations are beginning the slow and gradual process of recovery from COVID-19, right alongside the people, partners, and foundations who typically support them. The mindset is different. The approach must follow suit.
Here are five tips for nonprofits to consider as they work to shape the future, both short-term and long:
1. Communicate in a new way. Digital platforms are more valuable today than they were yesterday. They can be used to create frequent, purposeful touch points with others, as a means of informing, educating and inspiring. Think about what kinds of information and stories you can share, every week and possibly even every day, to keep the mission, vision, and values on your nonprofit somewhere close to top of mind. Make sure everything you share includes a link back to your website. That said, take a close look at your website. Confirm that what’s there is important, relevant, current and complete. Is there a call to action (CTA) and do people know how to support you, in the manner you wish to be supported.
2. Plan and manage events in a new way. For now, as painful as it is to say, the keystone annual events that draw massive crowds fall into the “no go” category. However, this doesn’t mean events needs to be canceled. It does mean that nonprofit leaders must think about them in a new way. Could the event be held in a virtual format? Maybe an alternative to having one giant event that typically sees attendance of 250 or more, is to have a series of events over time that bring together much smaller groups of people. Think about what’s possible rather than ideal. And, truth be told, you may find a silver lining in the process. Every year, the surgical oncology team at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore hosts a walk to raise money for cancer research. It’s a big deal. It raises a ton of money. In 2020 they are going virtual, and they are actually excited about it. The new format means they can draw people in to participate who don’t necessarily live in or near Baltimore. The potential exists for them to engage more people, and to raise more money than ever before. More reach and frequency is key.
3. Approach philanthropy in a new way. I believe most donors who have been loyal to a nonprofit will continue to support that organization. The dollars they are able to contribute may be less, or less frequent, but collectively will still go a long way in keeping the nonprofit afloat. The “every single dollar counts and is appreciated” message is critical. So is messaging about how exactly the organization is utilizing donations at this time – more to the mission! Be transparent and truthful. I believe people who give right now want to help right now. In some cases, it may make sense to focus on short-term needs as you are connecting with existing and prospective donors. Bring your stories to life and make them relevant to donors.
4. Meet in a new way. Now may not be the ideal time to take a prospective donor out for lunch (although with restaurants now offering limited capacity service, technically you could). This doesn’t mean you cannot meet and connect face-to-face. Propose a Zoom call. Connect on Google Meets, or use another virtual video application – heck, even FaceTime live in one-on-one settings. Stress that you’re proposing to “meet” this way out of an abundance of precaution, and propose up front that lunch be scheduled a bit further down the road as gradual reopening continues and there is less risk associated with venturing out and about. Utilize technology, it is your friend. Candidly, you could have four meaningful donor conversations in a span of two hours now vs. one meaningful conversation if you account for the time it takes to commute, have lunch, etc.
5. Prioritize in a new way. Analyze the strategic plan you had in place at the start of 2020. What still applies? What needs to move up on the priority list? What can you move down on that same list? What is completely out the window? What needs to be added? Take some time to think about your organizational strategy and economic position, realistically. COVID-19 has changed everything. Take a deep breath and embrace that your priorities must change with it. Re-plan, reset and go – those you serve are depending on you!
Over the years, Fallston Group has worked with and supported a large number of nonprofits so we know and understand how these organizations function and that the passion that exists within is typically tremendous. We wish them well, and are here to support them – in new ways.